Golden Retreiver in the woods

Neonatal Encephalopathy with Seizures

What is Neonatal Encephalopathy?

“Neonatal” refers to the time immediately after birth. “Encephalopathy” refers to a disease affecting the brain. Thus Neonatal Encephalopathy means a disease of the brain that becomes apparent soon after pups are born. Affected pups have been weak, uncoordinated, and mentally dull from birth. If they survive the first few days, they nurse adequately. They may not, however, be able to compete with stronger pups in the litter and their growth may be stunted. Some cannot stand at all. Others manage to struggle to their feet and walk with jerky movements, falling frequently. Seizures develop in most affected pups at 4-5 weeks of age. Attempts to control these seizures with medication have proven futile, and the pups die or are euthanized before they reach weaning age.

Post-mortem examinations have been performed on some affected puppies. While no changes were found in the first brains examined, more recent examinations have found changes in organization of the portion of the brain responsible for coordination (the cerebellum) and possibly in the area of the brain that would produce seizures (the cerebrum).

What other diseases might look similar?

A number of brain diseases of young dogs could produce similar signs, so it is important to avoid confusing every “funky puppy” with this specific disease. Low blood sugar can produce dullness and seizures in pups who aren’t nursing well or who have congenital problems regulating their blood sugar. The low sugar levels would be apparent on routine blood tests taken when the pup is showing clinical signs. Liver shunts can cause altered behavior, coordination difficulties, and sometimes seizures. Abnormal liver function would also be apparent on appropriate blood tests, and the shunt would be found at post-mortem examination.

Hydrocephalus (water on the brain) or other congenital malformations of the brain could produce similar signs, but such problems would be readily apparent at post-mortem examination. Infections either while in the uterus or immediately after birth can cause brain damage, but would typically affect the entire litter. Inflammation would be apparent in the brain at post-mortem. Certain infections of the dam (involving toxin-producing bacteria, for example) also would be expected to affect a large percentage of the litter.
Information supplied by the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine, used by permission.

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